I just saw Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. I trust most of you red-blooded Americans are familiar with it.
There is something about this play that bothers me. It is a beautiful, powerful, thought-provoking, moving play about life and how often we take it for granted and fail to really live it. But Wilder chooses to make this point by looking at life from the point of view of fully aware dead people. The Narrator makes a little speech in the third act about how “we know it in our bones that there si something about us that’s eternal.” Later one of the dead people says to her newly dead daughter-in-law that she just not look back at her time on earth, but look forward to what’s ahead. What’s ahead for a dead person? This was clearly a reference to the Resurrection of the dead, wasn’t it? The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised and all that…
The same point could have easily been made without resorting to Christian dogma. And it has been made - by Lynn Redgrave in her one-woman play (whose name I forget). In it she recounts the life of her grandmother, how she was a little girl, grew up, married a man she did not love, never had an orgasm, was not close to her children and suddenly she found herself to be an old woman, thinking “There was so much I wanted to do; I thought I had more time, I thought I had more time!”
And frankly, that is a more powerful message. If there is something in us that’s eternal, that lives on, that what’s the big deal about living? If there is something to come, if eternity awaits us, what’s the big deal about wasting our lives? Life is a mere Augenblick in comparison with “whats’ to come”, eternity.
So, is this religious worldview really that deeply ingrained in the American mentality? Do most Americans really see life through the lens of Christian dogma? And if so, could this be an indicator that the de-Christianization of America is going to take much longer than it did in Western Europe?